Thursday, September 30, 2004

Following the Debate

Marriage Debate

The link above leads to the CSPAN feed on the internet. Right now the House is considering the Marriage Protection Amendment. Apparently, according to a representative from Arizona, if I can get married, so can a group of ten people. Yeah, because that's the same thing.

Oh, now Tammy Baldwin is on. This should be good. She's a lesbian. [Update: She was great!] [Double Update: At 4:15, the House rejected the amendment. Support fell more than 60 votes short of the 290 needed to send the amendment forward. And after hearing three hours of debate, it's clear that while they are not the majority, gays and lesbians have some wonderful and principled supporters in Congress. To Mr. McGovern, Mr. Nadler, Ms. Baldwin, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Frank, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Kolbe, and others who had the courage to speak up on my behalf today: I salute you.]

The upcoming month will see quite a bit of political discussion. To keep up with it, might I suggest Bloglines? You can follow this link to see my subscriptions. You can even subscribe to this site, and if you download a tiny notification program, you'll always know right away when your favorite sources of information, including--hopefully--this one, are updated. Slate, Salon, the New York Times, Talking Points Memo, and Wonkette are all available. So is PopLife, Paul's music review site, and Baby, I'm a Star, his site reviewing movies starring musicians. I heartily recommend Bloglines and all of the aforementioned sites.


How to Debate George Bush

It's finally here: The first time we'll see George W. Bush and John F. Kerry on the same stage and, for some people, the first time they'll really hear either of them talk at length about their plans for America. To say that what happens tonight, in what is historically the most-watched debate of the election season, could determine who wins the election is to overstate nothing.

Al Gore's piece in yesterday's New York Times offered a good frame for watching the debate. To wit:
The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record. And I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: "The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined."

Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it's enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.
Besides the nice dose of self-deprecating humor in that last line, Gore offers a good point. It would be a dereliction of duty for tonight's moderator, Jim Lehrer, not to ask Bush about the differences between what he said he'd do in 2000 and what he's done since. I know Bush will answer "9/11," but Lehrer should ask why that changed the need for a force "strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished," and why 9/11 changes the need for a well-defined exit strategy. This is the one time when someone other than Bush can control the agenda, and I hope Lehrer won't let us down.

Anyhow, take a peek at Gore's entire piece. It's well worth the time. And if it causes you to wish Gore were out there tonight debating some Republican not named Bush, well, know that you're not alone.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Poll: Americans Uninformed on Bush, Kerry

This is just the most disgraceful commentary on the state of journalism and public education in America I've ever seen.

You're telling me that for a billion dollars in campaign money and countless hours of media coverage, we can't get to the point where people know which candidate stands for what things? Two-thirds of people couldn't identify repealing the estate tax as a Bush issue; half didn't know Kerry would allow importing drugs from Canada; and more than half didn't know Bush wants to privatize part of Social Security.

Instead, people "know" stuff like the phrase "flip-flop."

Here's how the article wraps:
After two years of presidential campaigning and hundreds of millions of dollars in political ads, many voters remained clueless about those and other policies, according to the survey. Annenberg analyst Kate Kenski blamed the candidates for not stressing their points of view and the news media for focusing on character assessments and the race itself.

"It's disappointing that people don't know where the candidates stand, given how much money's been spent on the campaigns," said Kenski, a senior research analyst. "In the absence of good information, voters guess and often guess incorrectly."
Blamed the candidates and the media? That's all well and good, but this information is out there. I could have answered all of their questions; most of you reading this could have, too. What does it say about not the candidates or the media, but most Americans, that they'll settle for a campaign in which they know personalities and catchphrases rather than issues? What does it say about most Americans that their eyes glaze over when real issues are discussed in print or on television? To put it bluntly: is the problem that the candidates and the media are giving the audience what it seems to want, or is the problem that the audience is mostly composed of idiots?

Vision of the Future

Barry Schwartz, The Costs of Living

The Costs of Living isn't what you'd call light reading. Published in 1994, its subject could be broadly classified as the meaning of life. But the subtitle, How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life, offers the constraint on the topic that prevents this book from being endless.

It's an enchanting but difficult read. Barry Schwartz, whose more recent Paradox of Choice garnered a New Yorker review and positive press for dealing with the same topics on the level of the individual, here demonstrates instead the powerlessness of the individual to stop the relentless advance of market forces into every domain of life. Moving from business to medicine to law to sports to love to education to democracy, Schawrtz shows how the things we purport to value most in life are now subject to market influence--and argues, persuasively, that they are far worse for it.

This is enchanting because Schwartz is a fantastic writer, good at using examples to make his points and capable of humor and serious concern in equal measure. The reading is made difficult by the fact that the book was written in 1994. Rather than the doomsday prophet that Schwartz surely seemed upon publication, he now appears oddly prescient about the continuing advances the market would make into all spheres of life if people did not band together to stop it. While he could not have anticipated the ways in which people's yearning for community in the face of these forces would be exploited by politicians willing to wield those communities' principles as marketable commodities--and how those politicians would use their resulting power to help the market forces advance ever faster--the ingredients of that recipe for disaster are all quite plain to the reader with benefit of knowledge of the ensuing decade.

Can we still turn things around? The task is undoubtedly even more difficult now than Schwartz suggested it would be ten years ago. But we ought to try, and Costs of Living still offers a good way to start constructing the framework by which we might begin to do so. Highly recommended.

Back of a Napkin


I didn't get enough sleep last night. About ten minutes before I would normally have gone to bed, I accidentally flipped to C-SPAN (I was trying to tune into Seinfeld and reversed the digits) and Brad and I found ourselves watching a meeting of the House Rules Committee. Oddly enough, they were discussing bringing the Federal Marriage Amendment, which they're now calling the "Marriage Protection Amendment," to the floor for consideration. And who else would chair such a proceeding but that good old queen, David Dreier?

It was fun to watch his palpable discomfort; he's recently been outed and he must realize how ludicrous he looks right now, helping move along a piece of political demagoguery intended to withold rights from he and his chief of staff/lover. Oh, and that lime green tie? Bad fashion AND dead giveaway, Davey.

There are a few roadblocks, though, to this amendment's passage. For one thing, no one really knows what this means: "Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman." As Congressman James McGovern of Massachusetts pointed out, the amendment's sponsors can't tell anyone what the amendment would actually do. Does "legal incidents thereof" mean that companies couldn't offer domestic partner benefits? Does it allow civil unions, or does it make them impossible? Can state legislatures create a separate designation for gay partnerships, or would that be a misconstruance of their constitution? There was broad agreement that the amendment, as written, makes no sense. John Hostettler, a Republican from Indiana, argued for several amendments to the amendment to make it clear that civil unions and domestic partnerships are verboten. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, opposed the amendment and argued that it ought to be sent to the judiciary committee before being considered to work out what it really means and to reconcile the first and second sentences, which can be read as contradicting one another. Because there's no transcript of the hearing, I can't offer a direct quote, but Nadler basically said, If this were a serious piece of legislation with any chance of passing and not a piece of political demagoguery designed to influence the election, we'd have hearings about the meaning of it, find out what impact it would have, and carefully consider any changes in the judiciary committee's subcommittee. Translation: We shouldn't be thinking of rewriting the Constitution on the back of a napkin.

Indeed, the bill's sponsor, Marilyn Musgrave, the Colorado Republican who I described to Brad as "that bitch from hell," refused to comment on what the amendment might do. Reverting to her designated Republican role of talking points whore, she just kept saying marriage needed to be protected from four judges in Massachusetts. Protected from what? Same answer. How would what the judges had done impact her marriage? Same answer. Was Ms. Musgrave aware that the people of Massachusetts had the option of undoing what the court had done if they disagreed? Same answer. Wasn't the Republican party the party of states' rights? Same answer. Nothing can rattle these people from their talking points. I turned to Brad and said, "This is what proves that reason and rational thought are no longer the foundations of our system. No one answers serious questions anymore."

The committee reported the bill to the full House, 6-2. Like I said: Reason? Rational thought? Reverence for the fact that we're talking about the Constitution and yet no one even knows what the amendment means? Not as important as scoring potential points in an election. A brave Democrat would use this against the Republicans. McGovern and Nadler, for instance, struck me as quite bold. Even Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat, seemed brave--imagine a Texan being one of two votes against a gay-bashing amendment! It's a shame I don't see the same boldness in John Kerry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

No Laughing Matter

Kerry using humor as political tool

Since Alan Keyes won't oblige us with a funny quote this afternoon, we'll have to make do with John Kerry's newfound foray into the world of humor. Everyone keeps saying he's a great closer, that he can turn it on in the final weeks of a campaign and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If he's going to do that, this joking manner could be the start. For instance, I actually laughed out loud this morning when I read what he said about Bush's request that the debate podiums be far apart to shift attention away from the difference in height between the two men. Referring to Bush's don't-change-horses-in-midstream notion, Kerry said, "When your horse is headed down to the waterfalls, or when your horse is drowning, it's a good time to change horses in midstream, folks." He followed this with: "May I also suggest that we need a taller horse? You can get through deeper waters that way."

Kerry's height advantage could be another turning point if he is willing to think outside the box. Thursday night, all he has to do is stride across the stage before the debate begins, or as it ends, to shake Bush's hand. It's the polite thing to do, right? So what if it's not in the 700-page volume of rules the Bush campaign demanded before agreeing to participate in the debates. What's Bush going to do--walk out? I'm sure Karl Rove has an explanation prepared for even that possibility, but I doubt even Karl can find a way to get running away from a handshake to play well with middle America. Kerry will look magnanimous, showing that even after being treated with such incivility during the campaign--remember, Zell Miller said he would use spitballs to defend America, and Bush's Swift Boat pals called him a liar about his record as a war hero--he's willing to be the bigger man. And he really IS the bigger man, a fact that will make Bush look, physically, like the small man many people already suspect he is mentally. Kerry can bring all of Bush's negatives, which exist somewhere in the minds of most voters, to the forefront of their consciousness without saying a word. And if this election is about whether Bush has been a competent leader whose policies have made America stronger not only in his fantasy world but in reality, Kerry wins.

New Management?

Slate's New Buyers

You all know how much I love Slate. I've probably posted more articles by Fred Kaplan, William Saletan, Timothy Noah, and Dahlia Lithwick than any other writers. So I find it interesting that Microsoft is selling the site, possibly to the Washington Post. I also find this description spot-on: "In any case, the talent pool, and Slate’s smart-people-procrastinating-at-work readership, is part of what is said to attract the Post, since it regards itself as a national paper trapped in a local paper’s body."

They've found us out, folks. I'll try to return later today with more distractions, including, perhaps, the response from Alan Keyes to the news that his daughter is, like Mary Cheney, a lesbian. Isn't irony fun?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Bring on the Amendment

Schwarzenegger Governing Like a Democrat

Consistency police will note that I strongly opposed the recall in California last year. But sometimes a dark cloud has a silver lining.

The headline above should indicate to you what that lining is. Arnold has governed in a fashion that should give other Republicans pause. He doesn't pander to the religious right or to the gun lobby, and yet he's overwhelmingly popular with voters. Could it be that other Republicans with functioning consciences could also govern this way? Could they, too, sign legislation giving gay partners the same rights to health benefits as straight ones? Can it be that being socially moderate is more appealing to the great mass of voters than acting like Alan Keyes?

There's a danger in this, of course: The Republicans may actually learn the lesson. If they do, they'll be unbeatable, in terms of winning Congress and the presidency, unless and until the religious right finds somewhere else to turn and dilutes the G.O.P. base in Naderite fashion. But for now, it's nice to see Arnold panning out as a governor. I wouldn't have had it this way, but things could be a lot worse than a pro-gay, pro-choice Republican dragging a major party out of the Stone Age.


I hold my breath, and I wait for you to breathe...

Some mornings you wake up and what you find waiting for you is more than you can believe. I'm still not convinced this day is really happening.

The link above leads, according to some, to the blog of Maya Keyes, daughter of Illinois Senate candidate Alan Keyes (who is currently down in the polls 68%-17%). The post I've linked is one in which she describes a recent weekend visit from her "anjul," a woman who appears, based on the writer's description and the accompanying photos, to be her lesbian lover.

If true, this would be a pretty ironic development; Keyes was suggesting just a month ago how he would react if his daugher were, like Dick Cheney's daughter, a lesbian. Now it appears that Alan Keyes has a lesbian daughter too! Here's hoping ol' Alan gets asked about this soon.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Three Down, Many to Go?

Another GOPer outed: RNC's CFO

It's hard to fathom, but in the last month or so, three prominent Republicans have been forced out of the closet. One, Congressman Schrock, promptly dropped his bid for re-election. Another, Congressman David Dreier, Chairman of the House Rules Committee--and supporter of all manner of anti-gay legislation--appears to be riding the storm out so far, but the publicity could put a damper on his rising-star career within the party. And today, we get the news that Jay Banning, who has been directing the Republican National Committee for two decades, is also gay. Are they all so self-loathing that they can't bring themselves to speak up against the way their party is treating them?

What's more disturbing to me, however, is that the mainstream media refuses to pick these stories up and run with them. When the Drudge Report alleges that John Kerry had an affair years ago, the media pounce. People have affairs all the time. Isn't the notion that an anti-gay Congressman, or the head of fundraising for a political party that wants to put discrimination in the Constitution, is secretly gay a bigger, more interesting story? If it's fair game to report on this issue at all, and fair game to report whatever daffy thing Rick Santorum has to say, it's surely fair game to report the fact that people are talking about the fact that some of the Republicans who speak out the loudest against gay rights happen to be gay themselves.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Hand of God

Hey Florida, Have You Got the Hint Yet?

I saw this map this morning and laughed it off, but the news that Hurricane Ivan is regrouping for an assault on Texas makes me think there's more to it than meets the eye. If Jeanne snakes its way around the three blue counties near Jacksonville when it hits Florida this weekend, I'm going to have to declare this a message from above. (Click on the image for a bigger version.)
Message from God?

Good and Bad About Richard Nelson: At a Glance

The House couldn't resist, of course. Now it's up to the Senate, once again, to prevent Congress from taking the wildly inappropriate step of telling the courts, including the Supreme Court, that they can't hear cases about certain topics. Republicans could just propose an amendment that would make "under God" part of the Pledge; it would be a mockery of the intent of the document and the amendment process, but at least it would be within the bounds of the Constitution, and it would force people to have a serious debate about the place of religion in our society. I'm up for that debate, if a bit fearful that I'd be vastly outnumbered. If this bill becomes law, though, the Supreme Court will be in the odd position of ruling on its own power. It's been done before, of course, but Marbury v. Madison was an awful long time ago.

So let's focus on good news instead! The link at the top leads to my Amazon profile. Months ago, I declared my intent to rise through the ranks; today I can proclaim that I've achieved my highest degree of success yet. My rank is now 12,204, up from 345,000 in June. Moreover, some of my reviews are actually quite successful; the review for Elephant, for instance, is spotlighted, one of two out of 150 so designated. And, wonderfully enough, it's quite apparent to me now that this success has nothing to do with my asking you all for help in achieving this goal; a bloc of votes from a single IP address are less potent than a bunch of votes from different addresses and Amazon IDs. Which means this rank is the result of actual merit, not a desire to get ahead the easy way; good work, Amazon, for making it harder to game the system. Of course, I always appreciate positive feedback, in the form of votes, comments, or e-mails. And a single vote for a review you actually find helpful is not only appreciated but meaningful. I'm thinking cracking the top 10,000 would be a nice year-end goal. Top 1000? It's a fun thing to strive after, but it may require more effort than I'm willing to devote to such an endeavor.

Beyond the Pale

Strip This Bill

This article is so clear and concise I'm going to take the highly unusual step of quoting the whole thing verbatim:
THE HOUSE is scheduled today to take up the Republican leadership's latest attack on the federal courts. In July the House passed a bill to strip the courts of the power to hear challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that ensures that states do not have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. (The Senate has yet to consider that power-stripping measure.) Today the House may vote on a bill to prevent the courts from ruling on challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance. Never mind that this year the Supreme Court overturned the one major lower-court opinion that had struck down the pledge and that there is no reason to think the court is having second thoughts. As far as House proponents are concerned, judges should never again even be able to consider whether the words "under God" are constitutional in the pledge.

How much power Congress has to block judicial consideration of the constitutionality of its laws remains, somewhat surprisingly, an open question--because Congress wisely has chosen not to test the question. It has, rather, accepted judicial review--the idea that the courts can strike down legislative enactments that offend the Constitution--as integral to the system of checks and balances. So while legislators have sometimes been tempted to yank controversial matters from the court's jurisdiction, cooler heads have prevailed. They should prevail now too. Whether the pledge violates the First Amendment's separation of church from state is a legal question. Congress has no business obstructing the courts from answering it.
That's exactly right, isn't it? We have a system of checks and balances; Congress can't suddenly decide that it's above review or reproach. It may be difficult for Republicans to deal with the consequences of freedom; they may have to someday accept equality for gays and atheists, two groups of people they apparently can't stand. But that's the way the American system is designed; it's meant to allow the majority to rule while protecting the minority from the tyranny of that majority. This bill is nothing less than an expression of the Republican desire to be tyrants. An educated electorate would see that and drive the offending party out of office. Instead, Republican House members are doing this because they think it will help them politically. Sometimes it's hard to even fathom what most voters are thinking about.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Tea Time: A Cheapskate's Guide to Tea

It's the first day of autumn, whatever the weather in Illinois may indicate. If you doubt it, leave your windows wide open all night and walk around barefoot on tile in the morning. It's not unbearable, but it's chilly.

Which leads to this frilly post. The combination of cooler weather and a presidential campaign destined to offer up many more headaches before November means that there's never been a better time to incorporate a hot cup of tea or two into your day. With a wide variety of health benefits and calming properties, a price of mere pennies, abundant flavor, and no caloric impact, tea is a little fall miracle, and a good topic to divert us from politics for a few minutes as well.

Unfortunately, many of us were brought up with Lipton teabags, bought in boxes of 100. Not that there's anything wrong with that tea, but it's not something you'd crave constantly. For only a little more money, here are some teas you can still prepare simply by floating a teabag in hot water (covered, preferably). No tea ball or loose ingredients necessary, and no lemons, sugar, or milk required, either. And they're all widely available in stores. I'll start with morning tea--best for breakfast, with a dose of caffeine about a third that of coffee to offer a smoother start to the day--and wrap up with herbal teas better suited to afternoon or evening consumption.

Plantation Mint: A Bigelow tea, this has a nice spearmint flavor. A good palate cleanser if you start your morning with an intensely-flavored breakfast.
Lemon Lift: Also Bigelow, this tea actually appears to effervesce when boiling water hits the teabag. Very refreshing.
Constant Comment: Made with black tea and orange rind, this Bigelow offering is their most popular offering for a reason.
Good Earth Original: A bit more expensive, this tea calls itself "sweet and spicy," which is exactly right. It's probably too much for daily consumption, but it has a wonderful aroma and will impress your guests if you serve it in lieu of coffee. Includes a few odd ingredients, including papaya, rose hips, and anise, that provide some of its unique flavor. Also available in caffeine free, herbal form.
English Breakfast: A Celestial Seasonings offering, this is just black tea. I'm sure if you sampled a variety of types of tea, you'd learn to distinguish one from another, but this is just a simple tea with a more interesting flavor than Lipton.
Earl Grey: You can get this black tea and oil of bergamot mix from anyone, but Stash makes a particularly good variety, with a very smooth flavor. Better yet, Stash is often buy-one-get-one in stores.
Lemon Ginger: Here's the first herbal tea, and the first Stash tea to get free with your Earl Grey. A wonderful blend of lemon and ginger, this is a perfect afternoon tea, especially if your lunch isn't settling properly. The potentially harsh ginger flavor is nicely mitigated by the lemon, leaving you refreshed and your stomach soothed.
Peppermint: You can get this from Stash or Celestial Seasonings; Stash's individual foil pouches are more wasteful, but also keep the contents fresher. Either way, this is a great afternoon tea, clearing out bad tastes and leaving a lingering minty feel. Also a good evening tea, especially during the holidays. Also good is...
Mint Medley: Which blends peppermint and spearmint, slaps a Bigelow label on it, and offers a surprisingly enjoyable taste despite mixing mints.
Tension Tamer: Definitely an evening tea, this is a blend of many herbs and spices. Check out the ingredients: Eleuthero ginseng root, peppermint leaves, cinnamon, ginger root, chamomile flowers, lemon grass, licorice root, catnip leaves, tilia flowers, natural lemon flavor, hops, Vitamins B6, and B12. All of that combines to form an indescribable taste that I'm willing to bet you'll enjoy.

Obviously this represents the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it promotes my main goal: to get you to think about drinking more tea. You've got pennies to lose and a healthy new daily treat to gain.

Ugly But True


The link above leads to a mailer from the Republican National Committee. Designed to appeal to socially conservative voters, it pictures the Bible under the word "Banned" and shows a picture of a man proposing to another man under the word "Allowed." A bit inflammatory, no? Last I checked, most liberals oppose the banning of any book--even the Bible.

The text on the reverse contains the following language:
Our traditional values are under assault by Liberal politicians and their hand-picked activist judges. They are using the courts to get around the Constitution to impose their radical agenda. The liberal agenda includes:
  • Allowing teenagers to get abortions without parental consent.
  • Removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
  • Overturning the ban on the hideous procedure known as Partial Birth
  • Allowing same-sex marriages.

A lot of that is overwrought or untrue: no one's trying to get around the Constitution, for example; we simply interpret its notions of freedom and equality to apply to everyone. But you've got to give this flier some points for honesty, even as you realize it's a despicable distraction from the issues that really impact voters in West Virginia and Arkansas, where it's being mailed: the four points mentioned are all things that actual liberals actually support. I'm not entirely clear about partial-birth abortion, but they've nailed me loud and clear on the others. "Under God?" Gone if I'm in charge. Teenagers needing parental consent? Doesn't make sense. Gay marriage? Item number one on the agenda in a Nelson Administration.

Andrew Sullivan calls this ad "hate-mongering," and he's partly right. It goes overboard in making its claims to scare people. Surprise! Fear is the modus operandi of the GOP. But while it's arguably irrelevant to most voters in Arkansas whether I can marry or not, whereas it's of capital importance to me--and while, therefore, their interests would be better served if they'd vote based on some other factor, like the fact that the President is sending their kids off to die in an unjust war or the fact that the same President is letting the economy go sour and changing the tax structure to make life even harder for them--it remains up to them how to decide how they vote, and up to the GOP to decide how--and how dirtily--to campaign.

The real shame in all of this is that no one will say, in a loud voice, how utterly silly this all is. Howard Dean was shouted down when he made his remarks earlier this year about Southern voters, but he was on to something. People whose economic interests lie with the Democrats need to be told, firmly, and yet in the gentlest way possible, that they're fools if they vote based on the stuff in fliers like this. A tough task? Undeniably. But also undeniably worth the potential payoff: Breaking up the solid South, turning back the tide of reactionaries, and putting government back in the hands of ordinary people rather than a plutocracy. A politician with the courage to undertake this endeavor, one with the right charms, could not only be President--he or she could be the most beloved leader in generations.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Got R.E.M.?

R.E.M. @

You can follow the link above to a free audio stream of R.E.M.'s new album, "Around the Sun," which won't hit stores until October 5. Who wants to wait for new music?

Pre-Debate Manuevers

What Is Bush Hiding?

In this morning's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne, Jr., suggests that President Bush could get this election back to real issues if he would do as Dan Rather has now done and come clean about the facts surrounding his National Guard service. Here's how he closes:
But a guy who is supposed to be so frank and direct turns remarkably Clintonian where the National Guard issue is concerned. "I met my requirements and was honorably discharged" is Bush's stock answer, which does old Bill proud. And am I the only person exasperated by a double standard that treated everything Bill Clinton ever did in his life ("I didn't inhale") as fair game but now insists that we shouldn't sully ourselves with any inconvenient questions about Bush's past?

I'm as weary as you are that our politics veer away from what matters--Iraq, terrorism, health care, jobs--and get sidetracked into personal issues manufactured by political consultants and ideological zealots. But the Bush campaign has made clear it wants this election to focus on character and leadership. If character is the issue, the president's life, past and present, matters just as much as John Kerry's.

Dan Rather has answered his critics. Now it is Bush's turn.
Unless he doesn't want to talk about real issues, in which case, I suppose, he should keep doing what he's doing. Bet on it.

Meanwhile, David Brooks damns John Kerry with faint praise in a column that puts Robert Novak to shame in its willingness to distort reality. I guess this is what we get from a man whose career is based more on being cutesy than on anything of substance.

In any case, it appears that Kerry has been successful in shifting the focus to Iraq, at least for now. And with the foreign policy debate only nine days away, he has a real chance to hammer his message home. Which raises an important question: How will Bush/Cheney '04 distract the nation from this one? I'm sure we'll find out soon enough.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Comeback Kid?

John Kerry for President - Speech at New York University

Yesterday, at a family dinner, I called John Kerry "without a doubt the least effective major-party candidate during my lifetime." He must not have liked that, because today he delivered a scathing assessment of Bush's Iraq policy and combined it with what he really needed to provide: an explanation of what he would have done differently and, more importantly, what he'd do as president to make the situation better.

If people are paying attention, this could be a real turning point. While the speech suffers from the typical Kerry problem--it goes on too long--it also makes sense, flows fairly logically, contains good sound bites, and makes sense of all his seemingly over-nuanced positions in a solid framework of realistic appraisal of the past and present and forward-looking planning for the future.

We all know which of those matters most, right? Kerry needs some defining phrases of his own, something to replace "flip-flopper" as the first words voters think of when they think of John Kerry. Now they can know that John Kerry believes not in weakness but in "the totality of America’s strength." They can understand his position regarding the war on terror that, "Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions and, if we do not change course, there is the prospect of a war with no end in sight." They can hear this position, both sensible and expressive of a common American sentiment: "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure." And they can ruminate on this thought:
Can anyone seriously say this President has handled Iraq in a way that makes us stronger in the war on terrorism?

By any measure, the answer is no. Nuclear dangers have mounted across the globe. The international terrorist club has expanded. Radicalism in the Middle East is on the rise. We have divided our friends and united our enemies. And our standing in the world is at an all time low.

Think about it for a minute. Consider where we were… and where we are. After the events of September 11, we had an opportunity to bring our country and the world together in the struggle against the terrorists. On September 12th, headlines in newspapers abroad declared “we are all Americans now.” But through his policy in Iraq, the President squandered that moment and rather than isolating the terrorists, left America isolated from the world.
I encourage you to read the entire speech, linked above, and to share it with friends. In the second half of the speech, Kerry offers specific recommendations for Iraq--things that should be done now, and things he will do in office. With six critical weeks left before the election, and with people able to start voting this week in many states, people need to know that John Kerry has a plan for Iraq. If you and I, and he, can communicate that plan effectively, he'll probably get the opportunity to implement it.

Half and Half

'Angels,' 'Sopranos' hit high notes

My record of Emmy prediction improves! Five out of ten isn't bad, right? Random picks should result in two of ten, so I'll take this.

Anyhow, I thought the show itself lacked a spark. Garry Shandling's best days are clearly behind him. I missed his monologue--we were driving home--but nothing else he did over the course of the evening made me think I'd missed anything special.

I was gratified to be wrong about Michael Imperioli; his win as Christopher was richly deserved, and Steve Buscemi's character wasn't as interesting as critics seemed to want to make it. Gratifying also was my error in suggesting that Kim Cattrall would beat out Cynthia Nixon; over the course of six years, I think Miranda was the more interesting (and harder to play) character, even if Samantha's final-season cancer battle brought out the best in Cattrall. And I was pleased to see the bookends for Frasier's Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, especially because the latter blocked perennial winner Everybody Loves Raymond from the podium altogether. And I was pleased everywhere I was right; the Adriana award was a wonderful thing to see, and Drea DeMatteo's "puke, choke, and die" line was a great in-joke for the Sopranos audience. Seeing Sopranos finally win the big one was a perfect note for the conclusion, even if they did break away from James Gandolfini's last-minute tribute. (He was going to praise a unit in Iraq that named their tank after Tony Soprano's boat, in case you were wondering.)

Not as pleasant was seeing the two Sopranos leads left out in the cold. It would be fine if I felt good about their successors, but Allison Janney again for a half-baked season of her show? She was stunned, Edie Falco was stunned, and asking the other nominees to come up on stage was weird and ill-considered; isn't it hard enough to be gracious in defeat without getting up in front of millions of people? If they just had to give a trophy to the no-longer great The West Wing, a career achievement Best Actor award for Martin Sheen, who's zero-for-five as President Bartlet, would have been better than tossing the thing to James Spader just to give it to someone on a network.

I can understand the impulse, though. After a night when HBO won at least 15 awards, with the remaining comedy awards going to a high-minded farewell season of a classy show ( Frasier) and a little-watched critic's darling (Arrested Development), the folks who run the Emmys have to be wondering if they've gotten too good for the TV audience. No trophies for Friends, no trophies for Raymond, and the most popular reality shows (Apprentice and Idol) and late-night shows (Letterman and un-nominated Leno) lost to an unwatched but critically loved Amazing Race and a cable gem, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A miniseries about gay men and AIDS wins more awards than any other program. This made me feel good about my TV watching habits, and about my choice to have both discs of Angels in America ready and waiting for viewing this week, but is it the kind of pattern that makes average viewers want to tune in? It felt like a sop instead to people like me, and I just don't think I'm in the majority.

Nevertheless, to improve a show that seems destined to aim to please me rather than the masses, here are some notes to the Emmy producers: First, we don't mind hearing stars talk for a full minute. Enough with the music when they've just gotten started! And, in case you couldn't guess, I don't think you should invite Garry Shandling back. Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, and Ellen DeGeneres were all funnier in their brief appearances. Pick one of them for next year. Finally, I miss the days of showing clips of an actor's work. They did this for the variety category, showing Bill Maher and Ellen Degeneres and Elaine Stritch and Chris Rock at work, but it would be nice to see clips in the acting categories. It would let people who haven't seen every nominated program get a glimpse of why they're considered good--and isn't that part of the point of having an awards show to begin with?

Six Feet Under in 2005!

Friday, September 17, 2004

Fantasy World

The Ownership Society

Kerry says that Bush is living in a fantasy world in Iraq, and I agree; see the post below for more on that. But the post linked above from Kevin Drum makes a point that I've been ruminating on for weeks now, ever since the G.O.P. convention--the ownership society idea is a bad one. Why? Here's Drum:
What [the story Drum tells in his post] is, though, is a cautionary tale about the "ownership society." The problem with privatizing public services is that, in the end, it's the government that picks up the pieces if the private sector fails. If you invest a piece of your Social Security in private mutual funds and your mutual fund company collapses when you're 64, what happens? In theory, it's just tough luck and you're screwed, but we all know perfectly well that's not what would really happen. As with the S&L disaster in the 80s or the LTCM collapse in the 90s, if enough people are affected the government will step in and make them whole.
He closes with this:
Privatization implies private sector levels of risk, but as the charter school story shows, the public is not willing to accept that kind of risk for things they think of as public services. They may like the idea of school choice, but when the charter schools fail it's the local school district that has to put up with the outraged parents.

There's no free lunch. The free market absolutists who are so enamored of privatization ought to know this. But they don't seem to.
Makes sense, no? Imagine it's 2044. You and I are ready to retire after long careers. There's no more Social Security; instead, we all have our money in private accounts because some Bush guy who we vaguely remember thought that would be a better system. Never mind that the national debt is so large now as a result of the transition costs from this scheme that our taxes to pay for the interest are outrageous and we get very little government service in return--in short, that we're living as a nation like a person whose credit cards are maxed out, drowning in minimum payments--you and I have done our part for 40-odd years and we're done now. And it turns out our private accounts are gone. The market crashes, or some kind of fraud is committed, and we're S.O.L. Don't you think the government would be forced to ride in on a white horse and rescue us? Would people stand for all these people, who worked hard all their lives, not being able to retire? Conservatives may be cruel in their theories, but aside from their attitudes about gays and poor women, they're not typically an overtly cruel bunch in actual practice. Would they let us twist in the wind in the name of smaller government?

Besides this problem, I think the ownership society idea exposes a bizarre flaw in the way we think about George W. Bush. We view him as this religious fundamentalist who wants to replace man's law with God's law. His political appeals are made to those who want to create a moral theocracy, where decisions about social issues are made on the basis of Biblical law rather than modern-day science and educated common sense.

Despite this, one of Bush's primary goals seems to be to change our society in a fundamentally opposite way: He wants to get rid of the very laws by which our national understanding of what is right and good are expressed as public policy. In our social programs and in our tax code, the United States has declared that there are minimum standards that we as a people will ensure that all of our people can have. We've done this through Social Security, through Medicare, through Medicaid, and through provisions of our tax code that, while never slipping into socialism, ensure that those who can afford to contribute more (and who, by extension, are benefiting more from the economic environment America provides) are asked to do so, while those who can afford to contribute less are asked for less. This system, while never removing the incentive for hard work, has ensured that the cost of failure here is not impossibly high, given people opportunities to start over, and, in short, has worked to make this something like the country that the Jesus of the Bible might have imagined, in which people care for one another. It hasn't been perfect by any means, but it's been better than the alternative.

Bush doesn't explain, when he talks about his ownership society, how it might impact the ordinary Americans he's so proud to connect with on a spiritual level. But what he's saying, essentially, is that everything in our lives would be subject to the free market. And in the free market, some will succeed beyond their wildest dreams--ask Bill Gates--and some will fail miserably. That's true now, too, but Social Security ensures that those who fail still have something. Bush is promising nothing.

Some things are too important to allow winners and losers. No one should lose when it comes to being able to retire comfortably. No one should lose when it comes to having access to critical health care. These are core tenets of two important faiths: the liberal faith, in their specifics, and the Christian one, in their abstract meaning. Liberals are voting for a man who wants to offer universal health care and they consider it a right; they supported creating Social Security and they support preserving it through fiscal discipline. Christians, at least many of them who take the faith very seriously, are voting for a man who argues against universal health care, wants to expose the most basic human needs to the whims of the marketplace, has exerted so little fiscal discipline that the programs by which our society expresses its moral beliefs are threatened, and basically says, "Every man for himself." Tell me, mama: Which group is betraying its faith?

Crest of the Tide

Conservatives Urge Boycott of Procter & Gamble

According to this article, Christian groups want to boycott Crest toothpaste and Tide detergent because Procter & Gamble, their maker, opposes a law to bar gays and lesbians from civil rights protections in Cincinnati.

P&G isn't perfect--they're not as rabidly pro-gay as the boycotting groups seem to think--but they deserve our support as they face down this nonsense. So if you're out shopping this weekend, maybe you could stock up on Crest and Tide? It'd be great if their sales went through the roof during one of these ill-intended boycotts.

"You want an apology? F***in' Whitman's Sampler?"

Report finds Iraq prospects bleak

Today's headline, the last in the Sopranos series, refers to Tony's words to Johnny Sack after Johnny expresses his exasperation that Tony didn't follow through on a planned hit on Carmine. Johnny, of course, gets what he wants in the end--not the apology, but the death of Carmine, his ascension to boss, and--oops!--his arrest at the end of season five. Bet that apology seems trivial now.

But as a matter of fact, I would like an apology--and a Whitman's Sampler (or, better yet, Godiva, Frango, or Ghirardelli)--from President Bush. He goes out on the stump every day with his "freedom is on the march" act as if it were 1944 and our troops were storming across Europe to defeat the Nazis. Things are going great in Iraq, he tells us, even as the death toll rises faster now than it ever has. His own intelligence reports, as explained by the link above, say that the best outcome Iraq can hope for is a murky quasi-stable one, while all-out civil war is a very real possibility. No one who's paying attention to Iraq--a group of people getting smaller every day as the war there starts to seem routine--believes that there will be a good resolution any time soon.

If that's the case--if Bush's Iraq policy has led to a disaster and nothing anyone does can completely fix it--how is it that he's running as the best person to "finish the job" there? His argument appears to be that he got us into this mess and we'd be crazy to let someone else take over. But isn't that why people lose their jobs? You don't keep a head coach around to rebuild a team his poor coaching has destroyed; you dump him, get someone new, and start dealing with the problems he left behind. Bush is arguing that Kerry would be less effective in Iraq and in the war on terror in general. How is that possible? Where is the bar set? It seems to me that any educated person in the Oval Office could prosecute these twin wars at least as effectively as Bush has.

It's a disgusting game he's playing, really. Bush is running on a record that he's making up. He's pretending the country is in the throes of economic prosperity when the evidence on the ground is stacked against him. He's claiming to have waged an effective war on terror while the people he said he'd get "dead or alive" remain at large and his biggest effort in that war, one that half the country thought was misguided from the start and that turned much of the world against us, has been an almost entirely unmitigated disaster. No matter what they may think of Kerry, aren't voters smart enough to realize that, while their understanding of Kerry is based on the spin of the Bush campaign, their understanding of Bush is based on four years of miserable failure? Can it really be true that, even when it's this important, if you lie big enough most people can't see through it? I really don't get it.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Pay No Attention to the Bad News on the Sidebar

Polls Show Nov. 2 Race Even as Bush Bounce Fades

Yes, the vote counter today says it's Bush 311, Kerry 223 in the battle for the Electoral College. And yes, that's really bad news for Kerry. But if the four recent polls that show the national race is tied again are correct, I predict the following changes:
Maine becomes a Kerry state again. Net +4 for Kerry, no change for Bush. Bush 311, Kerry 227.
Pennsylvania returns to Kerry. Net +21 for Kerry, -21 for Bush. Bush 290, Kerry 248.
New Jersey goes back to being a strong Kerry state. Net +15 for Kerry, -15 for Bush. Bush 275, Kerry 263.
Colorado goes back to Bush pending their referendum. Net -9 for Kerry, +9 for Bush. Bush 284, Kerry 254.
Wisconsin, Florida, and Nevada become tossups. No change for Kerry, -42 for Bush. Bush 242, Kerry 254.

If all of that happens, the presidency will hinge--surprise, surprise--on three states, with the very real possibility that the two candidates will finish tied at 269 if Bush pulls off a Florida win and Kerry gets the other two. If Nader stays off the ballot in Florida, though--which will depend on what the state's high court does tomorrow--it's more realistic for Kerry to win Florida by picking up the Nader vote, while Bush will benefit from Kerry's inability to remember the name of the place the Packers play in Wisconsin and also cling to Nevada for one more cycle. That would put Kerry in the White House, 281 to 257.

It's a perfectly plausible road to victory, Kerry: Win Pennsylvania, without which you're hopeless; get cracking in Florida, which would have gone for Gore by thousands if not for butterfly ballots, black voters purged from the rolls, and Ralph Nader; and you can even afford to give back a Gore state in Wisconsin. Heck, you could lose Iowa, too, and still win if you can get Florida. For all your floundering, you're still in this thing. Don't screw it up.

Varsity Athletes

And the Emmy for most predictable awards show ...

Emmy countdown week continues--only three more days until The Sopranos finally takes home the trophy for Best Drama! Or doesn't. You never know.

For now, I'll try to improve on my abysmal record from last year by predicting this year's winners.

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy: In a just world, Carrie's gal pals on Sex and the City would have owned this category for years. Instead, Doris Roberts takes home the statuette every year for her work on Everybody Loves Raymond. The end of Sex should bode well for the show, though. I would predict Cynthia Nixon's Miranda, but she didn't submit the last episode of the show, in which she takes care of her husband's mother, so I'll go with Kim Cattrall, whose vampy performance as Samantha found new depth when she battled cancer.

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy: I don't have a dog in this fight. Sean Hayes has played Jack on Will & Grace into the ground. And I don't watch Raymond. But I'll predict Peter Boyle as Ray's father, Frank, if only because he's the last cast member who hasn't won anything for the show.

Best Actress, Comedy: I loved Friends, but Ms. Aniston has her trophy, thank you. This has gotta go to Sarah Jessica Parker for her six years as Carrie. Is it a lifetime achievement award? Yeah. But she deserves it.

Best Actor, Comedy: Larry David is responsible for one of my greatest joys in the world as the creator of Seinfeld. That's why, even though I usually miss Curb Your Enthusiasm, I'm hoping he'll take this home. But I'd bet instead on Kelsey Grammer's final episode performance as Frasier Crane, during which he decides to go after the woman he loves. If any of the other three win, you'll be able to hear me howling from wherever you are.

Best Comedy: Sex and the City. They gave Raymond a trophy already. Friends isn't nominated. Unless it's HBO's Curb, it's about time for Sex to bring home the big one.

Best Supporting Actress, Drama: Did you watch Sopranos this year? If so, you know that Drea DeMatteo MUST win this category. She submitted her death episode, for heaven's sake! If they toss this one to Tyne Daly, or decide to honor Robin Weigert for Deadwood, I won't be surprised, but I will be disappointed. Adriana's character was played perfectly by DeMatteo; her death made the news. Please, give it to Adriana.

Best Supporting Actor, Drama: I'd like to see Chris and Adriana reunited with a win for Michael Imperioli, but my gut says Steve Buscemi gets this for his portrayal of Tony Blundetto. Note to Emmy: Do not give this award to John Spencer. His Leo on The West Wing was an obnoxious crank--and he didn't pull it off all that well.

Best Actress, Drama: Allison Janney submitted a Wing that revolves around her for the second year in a row and she still won't win. The writers have ruined her character. Meanwhile, Edie Falco submitted the episode in which she sends A.J. to live with Tony. She wins again in a walk.

Best Actor, Drama: The time for Martin Sheen to finally win has passed. There are rumblings that Anthony LaPaglia could win for Without a Trace, but I'm going with the safe bet here: James Gandolfini for The Sopranos. Every episode I watch convinces me that he's an acting genius. The out-of-character episode he submitted, the one where Junior can't stop talking about Tony's failure to be a varsity athlete, is not only an emotional tour-de-force for Tony, it's the source of today's Sopranos headline.

Best Drama: It's a sweep! HBO wins everything. (Don't forget how they're going to clean up for Angels in America.) The time has come, as I've been saying all week, to end the run of West Wing and give the trophy to the best show on television, The Sopranos. And here's hoping that next year, with Tony on hiatus, the second-best show takes the prize. Six Feet Under in 2005!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Justice Prevails?

Democrats Score Win in Fight Over Nader in Florida

Well, Nader's name is off the ballot in Florida again. An appointed Republican tried to use the "uncertainty" created by Hurricane Ivan to cram his name onto absentee ballots, a move intended to help Bush beat Kerry in the pivotal swing state. But the judge whose order the appointee considered uncertain shot back today, ordering Nader's name not be included on any ballot and that any ballot with his name be replaced. At least in Florida, it looks like Ralph Nader won't be deciding the election this year. With all this drama, is it any wonder I had a dream about him last night?

These Fish Next To Me Are Sleeping

The title today refers, of course, to the magic realism of the second season finale of The Sopranos, which should win the Emmy for Best Drama on Sunday. Tony's ranging dreams while suffering from food poisoning lead him to a fish market, where Pussy speaks to him through one of the fish sitting on ice and tells him he's been wearing a wire.

I chose the title because this post is about a dream. It started with me in an office building, getting off the elevator on the wrong floor. As often happens in dreams, the focus shifted quickly. One minute I was describing my job to someone on this other floor, momentarily confusing the job I used to have with the one I have now, then sputtering to figure out what it is I do; the next, I was seeing a fight break out in the opulent cafeteria of an unknown company. Leaving the floor, I discovered that Ralph Nader was in the building, and that his followers were filling it, forcing everyone else out.

And here's where things get weird.

I walked out of the office tower and found myself not in the middle of a city, as expected, but on a wide plain, with only the tower rising from the middle of it. A screaming horde greeted me, crying lustily for the head of Nader. As I walked along the front edges of the mob, I found Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. Hillary screamed at me that we had to do something about Ralph--didn't I understand he was fracturing our side? But she was looking up at the tower; I was looking out over the plain, beyond the mob, where a mass of red was streaming in from all sides. It looked like blood pooling, but it became clear that it was, in fact, a mob of Republicans, armed to the teeth, ready to kill us all while we were gathered to scream at Nader. "Hillary," I said, "We have bigger problems than Ralph! Look behind you!" She saw the red menace, screamed--

And I woke up, two minutes before my alarm was set to go off, turned on my computer, and saw another kind of creeping red on the electoral map. And when I walked out the door this morning to leave for work, the people across the street had a Bush/Cheney sign in their yard.

What does all this mean? It's not the best way to start the day, let me tell you...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Pot Kettle Black

Target will ban bell ringers

Thanks, Target, for removing a source of rage from my holiday shopping experience. By banning the Salvation Army's bell ringers from the sidewalks in front of your stores, you save me the mental work of forcing my mouth shut as I pass, when what I'd like to say is, "I'll support your charity when you stop discriminating in your hiring practices while using federal funds." You've given me yet another reason to prefer your store to Wal-Mart--as if the fact that you're from Minnesota and they're from Arkansas didn't already seal the deal.

No Varsity Athlete

Big Government in Charge - Bush was against paternalism before he was for it

In continuing observance of the expected Sunday Emmy win for The Sopranos, today's header comes from Uncle Junior's repeated observation that Tony never had what it took to be a varsity athlete.

It's appropriate because President Bush proved today that he doesn't have what it takes to call John Kerry a flip-flopper and get away with it. The linked piece above shows how Bush is both for and against government control of health care--on the same page of the L.A. Times, no less. Meanwhile, a Washington Post piece shows that the promises Bush has made during the campaign are actually more expensive than those Kerry has made. Fiscally conservative party, indeed.

Unfulfilled Prophecy

Latter Days

I really wanted to like Latter Days, the first film directed by Jay Cox, the writer of Sweet Home Alabama. But while the fluffy script of that movie was somewhat redeemed by high production values and a star cast, he goes overboard with his dialogue here and doesn't have either the actors or the money to distract attention from some cringe-worthy chatter.

That's not to say that there's nothing to like about this Mormon-boy-realizes-he's-gay-and-improves-gay-party-boy-in-the-process tale. The story is certainly touching even as the formulaic nature of it hits you over the head. And sometimes the syrupy lines Cox puts into his characters' mouths sound right, as when our Mormon missionary hero consoles a woman whose friend has died with a metaphor about the dots of ink that make up the Sunday comics, sounding utterly sincere. But when the party boy goes on a long storytelling tangent about being rescued from a cave after his father abandoned him in a snowstorm, it's a bit too much to swallow. And the coincidences that bring about the story's resolution are contrived even by formula movie standards.

Again, this is more than a trashy gay movie; it has a heart and substance and a message. Its portrayal of the two lead characters is sympathetic, if a bit unrealistic, and it allows at least one of the other Mormon missionaries, (played with snarky grit by Joseph Gordon Levitt of 3rd Rock From the Sun) to show depth and dimension through his otherwise constant stream of homophobic invective.

Four stars of five for effort, three for execution. And if you're squeamish about seeing male flesh, watch at your own risk. Of course, if that's what you're looking for, you can ignore the review above and rest assured this movie has a lot of what you want.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Woke Up This Morning, Got Myself a Gun

Federal Ban on Assault Weapons Expiring

In the week leading up to the too-long-in-coming Emmy coronation of The Sopranos, can I use a reference to the show in one of each day's headlines? Let's find out, shall we? Today's, of course, is from the song that plays over the opening credits.

It's appropriate because I could have gotten up this morning and purchased an AK-47. This scares me. I know that the assault weapons ban wasn't perfect, but isn't it better to have some gun control rather than none? One of the cops in the article linked above talks about how legitimate gun owners register their weapons. I'd like him to explain the "legitimate" reasons why one would own an AK-47 or want anyone else to have one, except perhaps the military. Are the deer arming themselves to fight back? Are pheasants and grouse organizing in the brush of the Dakotas and plotting to overwhelm anything that looks like camouflage this hunting season? Are you preparing for the violent overthrow of the government of Idaho?

The first two possibilities are insane, and the third is the sort of insane thing an assault weapons ban can help prevent. The fact that Tom Delay and Bill Frist thought that this very popular ban should be allowed to expire without a vote is a testament to their characters. The fact that no one but the media, and John Kerry, in a few speeches, really called them on it is a testament to the cowardice of politicians in the face of the NRA, and the need for a campaign to discredit that organization in the eyes of the public so its message is no longer effective. The evidence that we need gun control is on the evening news every night. It's a problem that urban folks understand, and it's one that suburban parents can understand in the wake of Columbine. And doesn't it make sense to try to keep the kinds of weapons off the street that would be most useful to potential terrorists? If the Democrats can't build a viable political coalition out of these parts, it's not hard to understand why some people think the party is inept.

Friday, September 10, 2004

National Attention

Bean Poses Re-Election Dilemma for Crane

By about 400 feet, I live within one of the few Congressional districts where there's actually a chance for a tight race this November. The article above shows that the national media are watching to see if Democrat Melissa Bean can knock off 35-year incumbent and archconservative Phil Crane. And why shouldn't they? Who wouldn't want to vote for someone who gives these to her contributors?

Was There Ever Any Doubt?

The Onion

In case you find yourself wondering why, even as Kerry's campaign falls to pieces, you're not going to vote for Bush, consider this all-too-true article from The Onion:
Bush Campaign More Thought Out Than Iraq War

WASHINGTON, DC—Military and political strategists agreed Monday that President Bush's re-election campaign has been executed with greater precision than the war in Iraq. "Judging from the initial misrepresentation of intelligence data and the ongoing crisis in Najaf, I assumed the president didn't know his ass from his elbow," said Col. Dale Henderson, a military advisor during the Reagan Administration. "But on the campaign trail, he's proven himself a master of long-term planning and unflinching determination. How else can you explain his strength in the polls given this economy?" Henderson said he regrets having characterized Bush's handling of the war as "incompetent," now that he knows the president's mind was simply otherwise occupied.
Maybe the reason you won't vote for Bush is that he cared more about winning an election than he did about winning a war--or winning peace? Kerry's priorities may be hard to discern, but what's so great about the priorities of the devil you know?

One Reason Each

Study: Bush Judges Most Conservative on Rights

The study linked above shows that the judges President Bush has put on the federal bench are the least likely to recognize a variety of rights, including abortion rights, gay rights, and First Amendment freedoms. Given another four years to appoint new judges, Bush could turn back the clock on abortion to the dark days of back alleys and coat hangers, and he could also use the courts to ensure that gays and lesbians don't achieve equal rights in his lifetime. But keep thinking the two candidates are pretty much the same, you wacky swing voters.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney is convinced that our economic data is incomplete because it doesn't include all the money people are making selling their stuff on eBay. I think John Edwards offered a pretty good response: "If we only included bake sales and how much money kids make at lemonade stands, this economy would really be cooking."

I hope Cheney isn't serious. I know some people can do OK with eBay, but it's basically a big garage sale; do we include revenue from those in our economic data? Should we? Perhaps the party of smaller government would like to create a form to report garage-sale revenue to the IRS? C'mon, Cheney, stick to your message about how the terrorists are just itching for a President Kerry. This whole eBay tangent has nothing to do with your main message of FEAR. Launching into long talks about his gay daughter, nattering on about the virtues of online auctions--and here I thought Cheney was the disciplined one on the Republican ticket?

Thursday, September 09, 2004


A Disgraceful Campaign Speech

I've been perpetually amazed during this election cycle at how much easier it seems to be for Republicans to get away with saying things that Democrats could never say. The Swift Boat affair was all the media could talk about, while Bush's Guard service seems to be something they'd prefer to steer away from. And imagine if Kerry or Edwards said that a vote for Bush would make the country less safe? Yet when Dick Cheney says that voting for Kerry encourages another terrorist attack, it's almost as if he's talking in a vacuum; everyone mentions it but no one follows through. Thank goodness the New York Times is willing to denounce this for what it is: a disgrace to American politics. There are legitimate differences of opinion in this campaign. But to suggest that a victory for Kerry is a victory for terror crosses the line.

I don't think the NYT editorial will have any impact, though. Cheney will keep saying this kind of stuff. It's the M.O. of this White House to do so, to do things so outlandish that when people see the headlines, they think, "That liberal media is going crazy again" and ignore them. That's lesson one from the last four years: if your actions seem implausible enough, you can get away with them in plain sight because no one will believe you're really doing them. Isn't that the kind of country you want to live in?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


The Essay: Decline and Fall and Fall and Fall by Paul Collins

Paul Collins, who you'll all remember from reviews of his books, Not Even Wrong and Sixpence House, writes a humorous piece here explaining why the NEA's "the sky is falling" report on reading in America isn't very meaningful. I'd summarize it, but it's worth reading in full.

So is this essay by Paul Graham, sent to me yesterday by Brandon. Graham explains why high school writing and literary education should not be the same thing, and why the fact that they are distorts the future interests of students. He also explains how a real essay should work, and in so doing describes some of the most interesting writing available for consumption, the kind that makes both the writer and the reader think in new ways about something rather than driving toward a foregone conclusion. I'd recommend taking the time to stroll through more of Graham's work; he's an interesting thinker.

Much else is going on today, of course. It's the day after the 1000th American death in Iraq, and the deficit is going to be huge again this year and continue to grow in years to come if we continue to follow Bush's lead. Kerry has a new ad that targets Bush on the cost of going to Iraq, explaining how that $200 billion could have been better spent. Tonight on CBS the old "Bush didn't complete his National Guard duty story" will return with a bang as his old commander admits he pulled strings to get Bush in. Meanwhile, analysis of new information from the Pentagon shows that Bush failed to complete his duty. That would make him--wait for it--a liar. Correct me if I'm wrong: Isn't that worse than flip-flopper? I'm sure Karl Rove will find a way to weasel around this, though.

Oh, and Serena Williams really got screwed last night. In 15 years of watching tennis, I've never seen a more blatantly wrong call, and certainly never seen a flurry of subsequent bad calls that compound the issue. Thank goodness the umpire has been removed from the remainder of the tournament. Watching her sit in her perch and not care that she was singlehandedly tainting one of the best tennis matches of the U.S. Open was so infuriating that I hope she never works in the sport again.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Learning From the Best

Kerry's Deathbed Conversion - What the candidate learned from Clinton

This weekend may well be remembered as the one when the campaign for the presidency changed. Five days ago Kerry was doggedly refusing to punch back at the Bush campaign's attacks; yesterday he rolled out a new punchline for his stump speech: "W stands for wrong." He's been willing to fight back hard against those who try to turn his Vietnam service against him. And he's been schooled by the master during a widely-reported marathon phone call between Clinton and Kerry as Clinton awaited heart surgery. The polling numbers that came out this weekend were scary--can 54% of the country really be thinking about another four years of this hell?--but Chris Suellentrop gives me reason to hope in his last paragraph: "The revamped Kerry campaign looks more like the Democrat who beat a president named Bush than the Democrat who lost to one." It's not time to panic yet.

Monday, September 06, 2004


Rewarding 'Unskilled' Workers

On Labor Day, this article strikes me as a good articulation of why we need to think more, as a society, about the way we define a good job and a fair wage. Jobs that many of us would turn up our noses at, even in times of extended unemployment in our chosen field, pay very little, offer very little in the way of fulfillment--and pay very little because they don't require any special skills.

Is that right? Beth Shulman notes something I should have noticed long ago. While it's no longer kosher to say that the help should make themselves invisible, we still treat those who serve us as if they are. The janitors at my office and the people who work there all day avert their eyes from one another when they run into one another at that magic moment at the end of the white-collar day when one group relinquishes the building so the other can clean up the mess. None of us who work there during the day would even think about making a living cleaning the place at night--so why do we have trouble understanding that the people who do clean should probably make more for a night's work than we do every couple of hours?

I'm not suggesting that there's no value in having an education and being able to do a job that few others could do. But our society devalues the jobs that no one who got an education wanted to do, robbing them of any nobility. Someone has to clean; someone has to cook french fries; someone has to man a cash register (though maybe not for long). And all of those people, in order to have any life at all, also have to live in close proximity to those after whom they clean up, those for whom they cook those fries, and those for whom they scan pricetags. But how can they live among us on their wages when some of us can barely get by on what we make?

Shulman reaches the same conclusions that I have. If our society is going to continue to produce an ever greater income divide between those who have high levels of education and ability and those who clean up after them, we must, for both practical and moral reasons, widen--not narrow--the safety net that ensures a fundamental minimum quality of life for anyone who toils in America to make its greatness possible. That's not achieved by allowing members of our invisible serving class to undercut one another down to, and even below, the minimum wage, leaving them with poverty-level incomes, no health care--and the down-and-dirty jobs that are a necessity in our culture without any of the dignity that should accompany them. It is achieved by raising the minimum wage, by encouraging service personnel to organize and thus gain the power to bargain fairly with those who have little choice but to employ them, and by offering health care to every person in America as part of a commitment to take care of all of our neighbors. Democrats already support these reforms; if Republicans are truly the party of God and morals, how can they not also support the idea of "love thy neighbor?" How can 36 million people living below an artificially low poverty line be part of God's plan, or something that should be tolerated in a nation that is meant to be a city on a hill, a bright beacon shining for the rest of the world?

Friday, September 03, 2004

Moderate Horror

"What If Bush Wins" by a panel of 16 experts

If you get bored this weekend, click above and take a look at what a few writers imagine as the consequences if Bush gets to be president for another term. Sebastian Mallaby's look at the budget is interesting, while Grover Norquist's prediction of the demise of the Democrats is pretty horrifying.

And if you want to know why we have a long weekend, Slate has the answer here.

Pray for Bill Clinton this weekend, too. Bypass surgery is no joke. Hillary says he's in good hands, and Kerry says he'll be fine, but the thought of a world without Bill Clinton is one I can't quite bear. Keep him in your thoughts.

All Hat, No Cattle

Kerry says Bush 'unfit to lead this nation'

Finally! I stayed up late last night to watch John Kerry finally punch back against the lies and smears we've been hearing all week, and he didn't disappoint me. He and John Edwards threw in some great lines, too. From Edwards: "Now, here's the truth, they led us from the edge of greatness to the edge of a cliff, and it's time to lead them out of town; that's the truth." And from Kerry, opening with a derisive bit of humor: "I want you to know that tonight in America something very important in the fabric of our life took place--very, very important: the Red Sox pulled to two and a half games out of the Yankees. Now, I think that that's important."

Then he got down to business. Responding to the words of Dick Cheney on Wednesday night, Kerry had this to say:
You all saw the anger and distortion of the Republican Convention. For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as Commander-in-chief. We'll, here's my answer. I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq.

The Vice President called me unfit for office last night. Well, I'll leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty.

Let me tell you what I think makes someone unfit for duty. Misleading our nation into war in Iraq makes you unfit to lead this nation. Doing nothing while this nation loses millions of jobs makes you unfit to lead this nation. Letting 45 million Americans go without healthcare makes you unfit to lead this nation. Letting the Saudi Royal Family control our energy costs makes you unfit. Handing out billions of government contracts to Halliburton while you're still on their payroll makes you unfit. That's the record of George Bush and Dick Cheney. And that only scratches the surface. I believe it's time to move America in a new direction; I believe it's time to set a new course for America. And together, you, John Edwards and I will do that on November 2nd. For four years, George Bush has stubbornly misled America and taken us in the wrong direction.
I think, when John Kerry starts talking about draft deferments and using the words "unfit for duty," we can feel pretty confident that there's been a change in philosophy in the campaign. Perhaps, instead of feeble punching back, from now on we'll see Kerry the fighter, taking this campaign to Bush and Cheney from now until November and forcing them to try to defend their miserable record of the past four years. If Kerry can keep this election firmly focused on Bush's failures and make the case that any new promises he makes should be taken for what they are--new lies on top of old ones--he should win in a walk, and let the polls that will come out over the weekend showing Bush in the lead be damned. He tried running a positive campaign of hope and optimism. He's tried it for six months. It doesn't work, John--not against this down and dirty family. Thank goodness you're finally willing to mix it up.

Thursday, September 02, 2004


Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine

After reading Checkpoint, I couldn't resist finding out how Nicholson Baker's books are when he isn't contemplating the death of a president. The Mezzanine demonstrates why reviewers were willing to pay so much attention to his more recent work. For 135 pages, Baker creates compelling reading from an almost plotless situation; in the most literal sense, the entire book transpires as the narrator rides an escalator from one floor to another. But in that ride he makes observations about, well, everything: drug stores, mens room etiquette, shoelaces, milk in bottles vs. milk in cartons, cigarettes being thrown from car windows, and, in an overwhelmingly ironic footnote near the end of a footnote-filled book, footnotes. In making these observations, the narrator captures the life of an office worker at the start of a career, wondering about why the company functions as it does and about the meaning of his place within the company, but also--and more importantly--about the whole host of mundane details that surround this world of work and the life for which that work provides subsistence. You'll shake your head a few pages in, yes, but soon you'll be nodding, agreeing with observations that are so familiar, so obvious, that you can't believe you've never made them until now. A bit dated by the advent of e-mail and the internet--no one sends paper memos back and forth, removing and reinserting staples in an endless loop from department to department, when they can simply CC: the involved parties--this is nevertheless a classic.

Keyes: Anti-gay and Anti-child?

Keyes' gay slam roils GOP

Alan Keyes has demonstrated in the last three days his knack for digging a shallow hole deeper and deeper. I just love this characterization of his actions yesterday:
After days of criticism that he had not addressed the Illinois delegates, Keyes finally made his speech Wednesday morning, hijacking the podium from DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, who had only asked for a round of applause for Keyes. Realizing Keyes intended to speak, Schillerstrom admonished him, futilely, to "Please make it very brief."

Building up to his trademark high-decibel fever pitch, Keyes shouted, "We shall deal with the challenge that is being mounted today to the family structure throughout our country: Gay marriage activists who are demanding that we should take marriage off the foundation of procreation, child rearing, responsibility to the future, that is the true heart of marriage and place it on a basis of selfishness, pleasure-seeking and self-fulfillment."
Of course, a man as steeped in logic as Keyes must be asked logical follow-up questions:
After his eight-minute speech, Keyes was asked if heterosexual couples who don't or can't have children are hedonists.

"The heterosexual relationship is haunted by the possibility of the child, which means you have to commit yourself somewhere to your head to the possibility of a lifelong commitment that involves not only selfish pleasure but sometimes sacrifice."
Haunted by the possibility of a child? Now, we all know that I would be haunted by the possibility of a child, but Alan Keyes is running under the banner of the "Think of the children!" shrieking party--you know, the party that says gay marriage would send the wrong message to America's youth. And the possibility of having one of those children haunts Keyes? Interesting choice of words.

Speaking of words, Keyes also used his moment in the spotlight to teach the origin of his new favorite word, hedonism:
"In a homosexual relationship, there is nothing implied except the self-fulfillment, contentment and satisfaction of the parties involved in the relationship," said Keyes, who holds a Ph.D from Harvard University. "That means it is a self-centered, self-fulfilling, selfish relationship that seeks to use the organs intended for procreation for purposes of pleasure. The word pleasure in Greek is hedone and we get the word hedonism from that word."
Newsflash, Alan: Everyone I know seeks to use the organs intended for procreation for purposes of pleasure. If you think sex is creepy and weird, just come out and say so. I'm sure that will endear you to the masses.

And by the way, gay marriage as an issue is all about committing yourself somewhere in your head to the possibility of a lifelong commitment that will sometimes involve sacrifice. It's two people who want nothing more than to say, "For better or worse, from today until the end of my life, I will love and care for you," and to have the same benefits available to them as are available to everyone else as they carry out that vow. If Alan Keyes thinks a marriage, or any relationship that resembles marriage, is based only on selfish pleasure unless it involves children, I'd (a) like to see how his marriage works, (b) question whether that view is in the mainstream, and (c) hope that he gets his head examined soon.

Soul Man

Imperial President - Opposing Bush becomes unpatriotic. By William Saletan

Watching the convention speeches of Zell Miller and Dick Cheney last night, I discovered a few things. First, in the run up to Miller's speech, watching the delegates clap and dance along to the song "Soul Man," I realized this important truth: Republicans have no rhythm. Within the view of a single camera, you could watch as five different sets of (white) hands clapped along to five apparently different songs. It was a spectacle to behold.

[Update: I've just learned thing 1.5! Zell Miller challenged MSNBC host Chris Matthews to a duel last night after his speech! The Republicans must be glowing with pride over this PR coup!]

Second, I realized, somewhere in the middle of Cheney's bombast about 9/11, that the Republicans have no message this year. They're not talking about the last four years in any meaningful or honest way, and they're not talking about the next four years, though tonight's speech by Bush is alleged to contain some sort of "vision." They're talking, instead, about John Kerry. They're grudgingly granting him the fact that he fought in Vietnam, then claiming that everything he's done since makes him unpatriotic, indecisive, and unfit for command, as the book title would tell you. Because they can't allow the American people to view this election as an opportunity to hold Bush accountable for what has transpired under his leadership, they've done everything they can to make the election about his challenger instead.

In my mind the response to this is simple. If Bush wants this election to be about fitness for office, Kerry's answer should be "Bring it on." Let's face it: At this point, a President Kerry is going to be bloodied and beaten by the time he reaches the Oval Office. The Republican playbook from now to November promises to deliver a daily bruising. It's time to hit back. What makes Bush fit for office? Is it his stellar attention to detail in the run-up to 9/11? His laser-sharp focus on the people who caused 9/11 in its aftermath? The American people are no longer fans of the war in Iraq; Kerry should point out, on a daily basis, until its sinks into the ever-thickening collective American skull, that going to Iraq diverted resources and attention from the real war on terror and made America less safe in the short and long term. He should hammer away at the constantly shifting rationale for the Bush tax cuts--first, to give back the "people's money," then to buffer the economy against a recession, later to propel the economy back to health. And he should point out that all the while, in providing the great mass of the American people with a couple of meaningless rebate checks and giving the rest to folks who quite simply don't need it, Bush has mortgaged the American future. He should make plain that a government, like a family, must make choices. He should point out that Bush's choices will have deleterious consequences for not only today's American workers but for their children, who will be paying the interest on the debt Bush's tax cut binge has created long after the beneficiaries of those cuts have spent every penny and returned to the earth.

None of this is ugly, but as William Saletan points out today, the Republicans will call it ugly. They'll call it unpatriotic. And when they do, Kerry should hit back just as Saletan does today.
In a democracy, the commander in chief works for you. You hire him when you elect him. You watch him do the job. If he makes good decisions and serves your interests, you rehire him. If he doesn't, you fire him by voting for his opponent in the next election.

Not every country works this way. In some countries, the commander in chief builds a propaganda apparatus that equates him with the military and the nation. If you object that he's making bad decisions and disserving the national interest, you're accused of weakening the nation, undermining its security, sabotaging the commander in chief, and serving a foreign power—the very charges Miller leveled tonight against Bush's critics.
Kerry should call Bush's campaign tactics un-American. Or his surrogates should do so--loudly, continuously, and without shame. Because that's exactly what they are. To run a campaign that will determine the future of the most powerful nation on earth in a way that upends the very foundations of democracy is as un-American an activity as I can imagine. I don't think I'm alone in believing this. Kerry just needs to show the American people what Bush is trying to do. I have faith that once they understand, Americans will reject these tactics for the patently unpatriotic rot they are.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

One More Time

Keyes takes jabs at his own party

Have I mentioned yet that I don't like Alan Keyes? Well, he's no fan of mine, either. Here's what he had to say Tuesday, ressembled from the Tribune story above:
"If we embrace homosexuality as a proper basis for marriage, we are saying that it's possible to have a marriage state that in principle excludes procreation and is based simply on the premise of selfish hedonism," the senate candidate told hosts Michelangelo Signorile and Corey Johnson.

After the candidate told the hosts that homosexuality is "selfish hedonism," he was asked whether Mary Cheney is a "selfish hedonist."

"Of course she is," Keyes replied. "That goes by definition. Of course she is." An interviewer then said: "I don't think Dick Cheney would like to hear that about his daughter."

Replied Keyes: "Dick Cheney may or may not like to hear the truth, but it can be spoken."

When asked Tuesday evening to explain his statements about Mary Cheney, Keyes did not back down.

"I have said that if you are actively engaging in homosexual relations, those relations are about selfish hedonism," he said. "If my daughter were a lesbian, I'd look at her and say, 'That is a relationship that is based on selfish hedonism.' I would also tell my daughter that it's a sin, and she needs to pray to the Lord God to help her to deal with that sin."
At least the party is repudiating Keyes. Judy Baar Topinka called the comments a pity. A Bush spokesman called them inappropriate. John McCain pointed out that Keyes is quite clearly going to lose.

Here's hoping Keyes loses big. 75-25 sounds about right to me. That might be a wide enough margin to carry a few new Democrats into the House with him.

Brotherly Love

Reagan's 'homophobic' 1st son steps up to counter brother

When I first saw the headline above in the newspaper this morning, I did a double-take. The Tribune was calling someone a homophobe? That would be newsworthy. But, in fact, the paper was merely quoting Michael Reagan, who blames homosexuality for the fact that he was sexually abused at age seven and has struggled with the demons that accompany such an experience ever since. Quoth the Trib:
Reagan has become a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, saying its validation of homosexuality will push young people into sex that will inflict the "guilt and pain that I have lived with all my life."
Later in the article, Reagan suggests that gay marriage will confuse children:
His book suggests that same-sex marriage could place young people at an increased risk of the kind of trauma he suffered. "If same-sex marriage becomes accepted as having equal validity with traditional heterosexual marriage, what kinds of social pressure will our children and grandchildren have to face?" he writes. "That's why today I can honestly say on my [radio] show, I admit it; I am homophobic,' " he writes. "If I wasn't homophobic before, I am today."
It's hard to read this and keep a straight face, pardon the pun. Is Michael Reagan actually suggesting that giving gays the right to marry will pressure straight people into becoming gay? Good luck passing that argument off on anyone who's spent more than five minutes with a gay person, or five minutes seriously pondering the difficulties we face now and will undoubtedly continue to face, in one form or another, well into the adulthoods of the grandchildren of every delegate at the convention. Ron Reagan's speech on stem cell research at the Democratic National Convention was admittedly simplisticly optimistic in its tone, but his brother's understanding of his life, and of the impact of acceptance for gays on the lives of others, is just plain simplistic.